Episode 19. Devoured: Eating Disorders in Black Swan (2010) and Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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Alex and Andrea explore the history, treatment and perception of eating disorders through Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar winning film Black Swan and Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre, Drag Me To Hell.

REQUIRED READING

Black Swan. Dir Darren Aronofsky. 2010. [DVD]

Drag Me To Hell. Dir Sam Raimi. 2009. [Blu-ray]

EXTRA CREDIT

A History of Eating Disorders. A general overview of the history of the disease and different methods of treatment.

What if anorexia wasn’t a disorder, but a passion? A new reading on rethinking the way that anorexia is treated and thought of.

Body Refractions – Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. An academic article examining the use of doubling, mirroring and lust in Black Swan.

Sam Raimi Interview, Drag Me To Hell. The director discusses his return to horror and the morality behind the film.

LISTEN

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14 thoughts on “Episode 19. Devoured: Eating Disorders in Black Swan (2010) and Drag Me To Hell (2009)

  1. Yes! Return me to the horrored halls of academia!

  2. Jess says:

    Thanks for another wonderful episode! This has definitely gotten me thinking about eating disorders and other psychiatric disorders as a theme in horror movies, and now ‘Drag Me To Hell’ is definitely on my watch list.

    I actually tend to kind of dislike ‘Black Swan’ for a number of reasons, none of which have to do with ballet. I do think the film was getting at the whole virgin/whore dichotomy and how societal notions like this can hurt women but I think it was done in a way that was meant to distance the audience from the main character, Nina, instead of creating empathy for her. This upsets me as a woman and as someone who suffered from a psychiatric disorder growing up. In ‘The Wrestler,’ the main character got to be, as you say on the podcast, a tragic hero. Nina was a victim the whole way through. I am all for female characters being imperfect and having weaknesses, but to me Nina is all weaknesses. Her death at the end of the film was fitting, but her lack of any kind of sense of self throughout the rest of the film was disheartening.

    It’s a story about how harmful notions in society can damage women, but none of the women in the film have any agency (or awareness) to even question it, much less try to work against it. I understand that these things are insidious and that the film could be seen as more metaphorical in its representation, but this is irritating when compared to the self-awareness present in ‘The Wrestler.’ Even looking back at something like the original ‘Stepford Wives,’ which was also about how societal notions can hurt women, the main female characters in that movie got to have their own personalities and some form of dignity before ultimately being defeated, so that the audience members had a chance to relate to them, which I don’t think ever happened in ‘Black Swan.’ Also, regarding the sex scene, while I have no problem with its existence, I do think it was shot in a very male gaze-y kind of way. I think the film had some good things to say, but ultimately went about it in a way that still emphasized women as objects rather than as subjects. (Sorry for the novel.)

    • Jess says:

      Ooh! Also, this article on mass hysteria and girlhood: http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/girl-trouble is a really good discussion about female agency, and how the truth is somewhere between total victimhood and total empowerment, and that seeing someone as vulnerable can be an excuse to dismiss them, and I think that is what I saw happening as an audience/critical response to Nina’s character in ‘Black Swan’ and why it bothers me.

      • Alex says:

        I definitely see your points Jess. I don’t disagree with them but I think the onus is put on us as on audience to deal with them. We (hopefully) can understand that Nina’s true self is being denied because of others expectations on her. Her “tragic flaw” is that she is blind to them.

        I think it also has to do with the medium of dance. Nina reminds me of quite a few ballet dancers I knew. They were childlike in a sheltered kind of way. There is a precision in dance that goes along with the demands placed on the body but, as a dancer, you have to make it look effortless. I find dancers wear the biggest masks of all because of what they have to conceal. Few ballets (save for a few new ones) portray any kind of sexuality and any physical pain or difficulties must be hidden. While I’ve never really watched a real wrestling match there seems to be an emphasis on pain and retribution. The wrestlers often play up their “injuries” to engage the audience. Their performance is more outward rather than in ballet in which much of it is internalized.

        • Jess says:

          “Their performance is more outward rather than in ballet in which much of it is internalized.”

          Ooh, good point! I don’t have too much experience with either the ballet or wrestling worlds, but that’s a great way of looking at it. I guess my issue is still the lack of self-awareness (in Nina), because despite wrestling’s focus, I don’t think self-awareness is something encouraged, so what’s left is the assumption that self-awareness is a more inherently male characteristic. You are right that the onus is on the viewer–the world of ballet can be very sheltering, and that doesn’t mean women as a whole are more likely to be childlike/infantilized/less self-aware–but I guess it’s just that the ‘women don’t know their own minds’ trope is one I’m kind of sick of seeing in film, so I tend not to like movies that, nuanced or not, can reinforce that idea.

          Thank you so much for discussing this with me. I’m not an academic but I really enjoy pop culture (particularly horror movie) analysis, and discussion helps me understand not only other people’s takes on things, but my own.

          • Alex West says:

            I think your reading is totally accurate. It is a problematic portrayal of Nina and the women in that film because they don’t know their own minds. While it works for me against the backdrop of ballet, it is a tired trope. I guess that’s why I liked Black Swan so much because, for once, that trope made sense to me because of my experiences in that world.

            And thank you for your thoughts and comments! I think you definitely tapped into a part of the film that we didn’t get fully into.

  3. daustin says:

    Great episode, as usual. Not sure I agree on the Drag Me to Hell, but it’s definitely an interesting take. May need to revisit it with that in mind, as I was a bit disappointed on first watch.

    By the way, what’s that song from Rue Morgue you were playing?

  4. Jon says:

    Insightful episode as usual. I don’t have much to add right now, but I do have a question: what band/song was used at the end of the episode as a tribute to Rue Morgue?

  5. Andrea says:

    Thanks for your comments, Jon and Daustin!

    So many folks are writing in about that closing track! It’s Gary Numan covering himself (or rather, his old band, Tubeway Army) for the All Saints Basement Sessions project. I think it’s an awesome acoustic version of the tune and I’m so glad the listeners are diggin’ it.

    Here’s the link to the video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22Z4Tv1zn-s

  6. Larry B Vossler says:

    Great episode!

    Recently got into y’alls show and I’ve been blown away by the in-depth analysis and discussion on a certain topic/themes and the films that reflect that topic/themes.

    The new episode hit me really hard. I’m currently overcoming anorexia and things have improved vastly; I have my moments with when it comes back and hits me really hard. I’ve learned ways to deal with my image, my relationship with food and my weight. Being a male–well, the physical appearance, though at times I feel male–you know what, this is part of another discussion–adds further stigma and stress with me dealing with this issue. These subjects are not talk about
    and are pushed out or downsized with masculine language and terminology. So when I found out you two were doing a podcast on this topic, I was intrigued and excited: I was not let down.

    I found this discussion to be a thoroughly nuanced and very empathetic to those dealing with anorexia and everything that comes with it. Thank you for tackling and dealing with such a tough subject.

    Also, have you two thought about tackling: Devil’s Back Bone, The Orphan, The Others–those three can their interesting take on ghosts– Let the Right One In, Let Me In, Cronos–interesting take on vampire–or movies that have subverted genres: like You’re Next and An American Werewolf in London?

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Larry!

      Thanks for writing and sharing your experience. I’m happy to hear you’re overcoming your condition: I was pretty shocked at dismayed at the stats we dug up on eating disorders and their recovery rates. Stay strong and persevere!

      We actually covered The Devil’s Backbone in Episode 9 on children in horror. You’ve given us some great ideas, though. I’d love to chat about Cronos and Let the Right One In… some unconventional international vampire cinema!

  7. E.S. says:

    Allo there,
    Yet another excellent episode. Glad you skipped the obvious, such as _Thinner_, for something like _Drag Me to Hell_. However, I’ve for a time now had a suspicion that there was something else going on in much of Raimi’s work.
    Steve Ditko, creator of Spider-Man, is a rather strong proponent of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Although during his time with Spider-Man he was not yet an Objectivist, his beliefs and work did show a strong affinity for that philosophy. And it is that period of Spider-Man that Raimi was most attracted to and drew from for his films.
    For a time, Raimi intended to adapt the fantasy novels of Terry Goodkind. Absolute Objectivism that time. However, in the end he had to settle for producing it as a television series — in look, like his Hercules and Xena, but so very different in philosophy.
    And then there is _Drag Me to Hell_. A moral horror story, penned by Raimi and his brother, in which there is absolute right and wrong — no shades of gray. Objectivism at work again. And for Christine, she is damned by her actions — however slight, despite what reprimands she may try to make. My apologies as my time is too limited at present to flesh out the previous, but it does seem that consciously or not Raimi’s moral philosophy is at least sympathetic with Objectivism and finds its strongest vehicle for expression in _Drag Me to Hell_. My best!
    -E.S.-

  8. Andy says:

    Hi ladies! My sister and I are both huge fans of your show. We both know all of the time and effort that goes into producing something like this. The fact that you go to all the trouble every month to offer something like this (for free!) to the world – well, that is just so cool of you guys and we really appreciate it. I know you may be sick of being labelled a “feminist” podcast, but I think people love it – it fills a much needed void in the world of horror fandom, where women are so often included merely for their physical attributes. I know that my little sister (a budding college feminist) and myself (a gay) find it refreshing to have discovered a podcast that is not run by a couple of straight white fanboys…though we love them too! This last episode was very interesting – what an unusual topic! This one really did seem like a lecture class – loved it. Have you ever thought of doing an episode on ageing in the horror film? There are many good examples, “She” (both 1932 & 1965, “Hocus Pocus”, “Death Becomes Her” and many others, I’m sure…
    Thanks again for everything you do & Happy Halloween!
    – Andy from Texas

  9. nickwinters says:

    Really want to get behind the show. There’s lots to recommend it. But for starters how are the two of you taking Black Swan seriously? It’s such a (horrendously acted) pile of tripe. The whole thing -starting w/ Portman’s ‘performance'(who has never learned to act) is ridiculus. It’s all so over the top without being interesting. There’s zero depth to the whole enterprise. And Carrie (the film)wants her mom back.

    I have to wonder a little bit about your criteria for what makes a worthwhile movie is BS is turning your crank. That director is crazily over-rated. He made a hash out of Hubert Selby’s classic book. Mickey Rourke is why we watch the Wrestler/the end is a total cop-out.

    Is there a way to make the pc a little less claustrophobic? Pls. take no offense but I’m not looking for a trip down your personal memory lanes when I sign on to listen to the show. Pros keep it pro. Save the “I remember when” stories for parties. I’m looking for insight into a film I care about.

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